I once had a friend who was like a cousin to me. Of course, since both my parents were only children, I have no idea what it's like to have a cousin. Or an aunt or an uncle. But you know how it is, if you're raised up in some religion other than Christianity in America, and your senses are inundated without any effort on your part by Christmas every year, you wind up having no idea why but you know the words to Silent Night? Well, that's what it's like to not have cousins but be raised somewhere where EVERYbody has at least three extended relatives, if not 25. You just know.
So anyway, this friend of mine who was like a cousin -- Rojean -- was one of the sharpest, funniest people I've ever known. (See why it felt like she coulda been a relative?) She lived in a part of The Republic that is still considered the antithesis of Swamp City. I can't name it, though, because if I do, you'll all go out and find her. And as lovable and funny -- and I mean, funny -- as Rojean was (and probably still is), her life evolved in such a way that, well, let's just say there's no tellin' what end of the politico-religious spectrum she's gonna be wallowing in when you get to her. And I can't save ya from her, I promise. So I'll just spare your life by not revealing where she's at.
But I'll tell ya where she hails from: Maryland.
Did you know that even bein’ over there on the Atlantic and up where it snows regularly (I think), Maryland was considered part of Dixie?? I found that fascinating and unbelievable. So Rojean being from there, and me being from here, we used to argue when we were younger about this mis-located Confederate state. Rojean insisted that she was NOT a Yankee, and so therefore, knew her way around oyster stew.
Of course, to me, oysters hailed from the Gulf, not the ocean. (That was another thing we argued about -- Rojean insisted on her annual summer trek to mecca that the Gulf of Mexico can correctly be referred to as "the ocean".) And before any of you expat Yanks start jabbin' me about how Maryland's famous for its seafood, just remember that I wasn't exactly well-traveled or otherwise geographically intelligent in my early 20s. I know better now. But I honestly still have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that a place up that far north could be identified with oysters, the loves of my life. And as far as I know, I never ate any dish that connected the word "stew" with any seafood until I was mixin' with the enemy. You can't fry stew.
So this recipe comes from those days and nights long ago with Rojean, the woman who would be damned if she'd be called a Yankee. I have altered it a bit, but the basic idea was her way of cooking fancy once in awhile. (Rojean wasn't big on cooking. Now, drinking? That's another matter.) She even went so far as to serve it with saltines and hunks o' cheddar. Cheese was Rojean's vegetable side. When I made it tonight, we were out of crackers, so I hard-toasted some sandwich bread after cutting it into dip-able squares. (WWME? Salad instead of cheese.) Tonight, I had a baked sweet potato with nutmeg sprinkles to balance things out.
I think all that hard time I gave Rojean about being a Yankee just might've been the end of her. For such a smart woman, she sure did seem to try too hard at white trashin' it up later on. She was the last person I thought I'd hear about chasing her husband around the park with a pipe.
Rojean, darlin' -- this recipe's for you!
Cousin Rojean's Cajun Yankee Oyster Stew
2 cups milk
1/2 stick butter
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
8-oz can oysters, undrained
rounded 1/4 tsp gumbo filé
1 can condensed "oyster stew" soup (You can leave this out entirely and it all comes out just fine. I just happened to have a can of it in the cupboard, courtesy of The Editor, so I figured I'd make use of it.)
14 oz can diced potatoes
3/4 cup frozen corn
In medium-sized pot, heat milk to scalding on low low low.
While it's heating:
Melt butter in larger pot. Before it starts to brown, whisk or fork in your flour, constantly stirring to blend blend blend. Next, fork in your Worcestershire. That's the Yankee part, I think.
This should be on super-low to low-medium heat. The trick to roux is controlling the heat. If you see it's starting to cook too fast for you to keep up, turn it down. If you're cooking with electric, you're gonna need to stay on your toes more.
Continue briskly stirring the roux until it's just a little thickened and bubbly. Drain in the liquid from the can of oysters, stirring fast to blend and keep it all from sticking. Once you've added all the liquid, dump your oysters in.
Here's where you get to cheat: If you'd been using fresh or even the kind you buy in plastic containers, you'd have to cover the pot and cook on super-low for a few minutes til the oysters started to curl around the edges a little. But lucky you! You've got canned oysters, so they're already done! No need to wait -- stir the canned oysters in very gently.
Another trick to this: Use a wooden spoon unless you're skilled at using metal without disintegrating the ugly critters into a gnarly lookin' mash. You really do wanna keep 'em as whole as possible.
Next you're gonna dump in your gumbo filé (this is the Cajun part, see cher) -- but BEFORE THAT, it has to still be pretty runny base. If your oyster mess has cooked too much and is sticking to the pot, you need to thin it (with either a little milk from the scaldin' pot or some of the juice from the canned potatoes) to keep from over-stirring and turning the whole batch into a gray-green mess.
So if you're batch is liquid enough to stir the gumbo filé in gently, then do it. Otherwise, add your add'l liquid to thin the batch, then the filé.
Here's another cheater-cheater part: Now dump in your can of soup, if you got it. Don't dilute it, just dump the whole thing.
By now your milk should be ready. If you don't know what scalded milk looks like, it's this-->
Pour it in all at once and swoosh it a little with your spoon.
Turn off the heat.
Quick quick, dump in all the potatoes from the can, plus the frozen corn. DON'T stir.Cover it and set your timer for 20 minutes.
After the stew's sat there without heat for 20 minutes, heat it up a little on low, for about 15 minutes, just until the corn and potatoes are hot.
Serve with crackers or toast squares.
And don't forget the Tabasco, darlin! Sprinkle at will. Me, I like mine hot, yeah.